It’s the first day of winter and turning on the heater is typically a normal action taken by many Australian families, however, for some, it’s the difference between heating or eating.

With electricity prices increasing across the country, regional areas are particularly feeling the strain, recording the highest daily supply charges than anywhere else.

For Brownsville, Wollongong, resident and retiree Graham Smith, whether to spend money on heating or food is a dilemma he and his wife face daily.

“My wife and I try not to put the heater on because we’re mindful of the cost,” Mr Smith said.

“In Winter we go to bed early, because then we can keep warm, we only have a small house but I couldn’t imagine trying to warm a large home.

“It’s a struggle and if we do put the heater on, it might mean we need to cut back on the shopping or other things.”

The most recent Australian Energy Regulator report from the Australian Government showed that the first quarter of electricity prices for 2024 were higher than the preceding quarter in all regions across Australia, with many residents receiving a letter from their providers outlining a large price increase.

Louis Fredheim, an engineer who runs the energy price comparison website Energyse, analysed nearly 8000 residential electricity plans in Australia for April 2024 to better understand prices.

His findings showed that Adelaide was high on the list being labelled the capital city with the most expensive electricity, costing 47 cents for a two-person household, 31 cents higher than any other capital city. Hobart homes spent the most on electricity, averaging $2,466 per year. Melbourne had the lowest average peak rate at just 30.1 cents per kilowatt.


Anglicare Financial Counselling and Emergency Assistance manager Astra Fleetwood told the ABC that many families have turned to firewood to save money, but as the price continued to rise, many were using harmful materials to compensate.

Wood heaters are estimated to be in 900,000 Australian homes and in New South Wales are used in around 10 per cent of homes. But there’s concern this isn’t the solution.

A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that wood heaters could be killing up to 63 people a year in the ACT alone, with many ruling a ban on the heaters, being labelled “as bad as the Black Summer bushfire”.

The Australian Capital Territory government is looking to phase out wood heaters by 2045.

Within the report, Professor Sotiri Vardoulakis from the Australian University wrote that the phasing out of wood heaters is a ‘positive development’ and ‘would offer major health and environmental benefits in Australia.’

Source: The Medical Journal of Australia 

Electrical safety manager and metering consultant Paul Jeffery said he’s seen the impact on families firsthand.

“Lots of people are being more aware of the amount of energy they’re consuming,” Mr Jeffery said.

“It’s no longer as easy as turning on your heater, and it’s a direct reflection of the time of use.

“Typically weekday evenings are the most expensive.”

With the growing installation of smart meters in households, time-of-use electricity plans are becoming increasingly popular. These plans charge households varying electricity rates depending on the time of day.

Source: Energyse April 2024 report

Many vulnerable families are now facing the harsh reality, and it’s proving a direct reflection of the cost-of-living crisis.

Parents for Climate surveyed over 1,000 households across Australia and uncovered to manage costs many families are making sacrifices such as purchasing lower-quality food and reducing travel.

Lower-income households are suffering the brunt, with 10 per cent of respondents saying they are accumulating debt to ‘manage rising energy bills’. Ninety-five per cent of families surveyed wanted the government to take action and offer support to use more ‘energy efficient and affordable technologies’.

Graham Smith said he hopes that there will be changes made for families but expects prices will continue to skyrocket.

“I can’t see prices coming down anytime soon, especially heading into the cooler months,” Mr Smith said.

“We haven’t turned our heater on yet, but there have been nights where it’s so cold that my wife will put three blankets on the bed just to feel some warmth.

“I hate to think what large families are going through during this time, trying to heat a big home.”